Vol. 85 - No. 4
April 2014

WORD FROM THE PASTOR: Laughing at Ourselves

             When I was a kid in Texas, “Aggie” jokes were popular–poking good-natured fun at the students of Texas A&M University. One of my favorite Aggie jokes went like this:

             An Aggie was a contestant on a quiz show. Over the course of several episodes, he advanced to the last, big question, with thousands of dollars on the line. The studio was filled with Aggies, who were there to cheer their champion on. The host lifted the card and read the Final Question: “What is Easter?” And the contestant answered, “Easter...is the day when Jesus comes out of the ground...”

             The studio erupted with cheers from his fellow Aggies.

             The contestant continued: “...and then, if He sees His shadow...”

             I love religious jokes. A great modern theologian was quoted as saying something like this: “If you really believe in your religion, then you can make fun of it.” In other words: If you’re secure in your faith, then you’re not going to be threatened by religious humor.

             A few years ago, a snack chip manufacturer had an online advertisement that featured two clergymen. They were agonizing over declining church attendance (which certainly grabbed my attention). Then one of them lit up with a divinely-inspired idea. In the next scene, a line of people flows outside the church doors. And inside the church, the pastor is distributing...not communion wafers, but snack chips!

And, of course, there was a huge uproar. Anti-Christian! Blasphemy!

             I thought it was kinda funny myself–and I have a pretty deep devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. But again, I think it was because of my devotion to the Sacrament that I was able to laugh at it. If you’re secure in your faith, you needn’t be threatened by something that mildly pokes fun at it. (I thought the advertisement also was a pointed, if unintentional, critique of the bizarre lengths that modern churches sometimes go to in order to increase attendance). The one thing I found offensive about the ad was that I knew the advertisers would never make fun of any other religion. After all, some religions are notoriously thin-skinned, and there are major campaigns internationally to criminalize “blasphemy”. But as a Christian, I have no issue laughing a little at my faith.

             There are things that offend me. I don’t like folks messing with the cross of Christ. To me that is the Holy of Holies where humor is inappropriate. Thus, the final scene in Monty Python’s “Life of Brian”–where the crucified victims dance on their crosses and sing “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” –leaves me pretty cold. Interestingly, Terry Jones of the Python group recently said that “Life of Brian” could never be made today because of people’s religious sensitivities. (My aversion to cross-related humor does not prevent me from appreciating the so-called “Eighth Word from the Cross”: “If you’re okay, and I’m okay, then what am I doing up here on this cross?” I regard that, not as humor, but as a critique of the modern world’s denial of human sinfulness). I’m not a big fan of “G-force Jesus”–a dashboard ornament where Jesus is struggling to hang on to the cross because of the driver’s leaden foot. (The only time I ever saw that little item was in a pastor’s car!) So I see Mt. Calvary as pretty much a humor-free zone. The death of the sinless Son of God for the sins of the world is no laughing matter.

             I also find it pretty offensive that the ad for a new cartoon film takes the beloved “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” and turns it into “We’ve Got the Whole World in Our Hands.” Transferring God’s power and authority to us poor, miserable sinners is not amusing.

             Otherwise, though, I welcome a good religious joke. I love the version of Sallman’s head of Christ where Jesus is wearing hipster hornrim glasses. I love the picture of Blessed Martin Luther redone as a beatnik (heck, I posted it on the church bulletin board). I love the cartoon where the football player dedicates his touchdown to Jesus–while Jesus at that very moment is watching a hockey game! One of the most attractive qualities a person can have is self-deprecating humor–the ability to laugh at one’s self. That’s an attractive quality in a religion, too.

             “There are no jokes in our religion,” a prominent leader in a non-Christian faith once declared. But in Christianity, there is an old tradition that the Easter sermon should have something funny in it. (Okay, I can’t make any promises, but I’ll try this year!) Easter should be a time of joy and laughter. Death has been defeated, a future of bliss has been secured! Jesus is alive and promises always to be with us! Our sins are forgiven and we are welcomed into God’s family! A giddy, dancing-in-the-street kind of elation is called for. And when you’ve got that kind of elation, you might even tell a few jokes...and some of them might even be religious jokes! And that’s okay. Again, as the theologian said: “If you really believe in your faith, you can make fun of it”.

             So did you hear the one about the priest, the rabbi and the minister...

             God loves you and so do I!